Gmail-less in Seattle
September 2, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to mitigate a future Gmail outage or account lockout?

I use Google Apps for Domains, and I've set up my domain's MX records to deliver everything to my Google mail account. Is there something I can do to set up my MX records so email is delivered to a second address as well? I realize that's not especially a good solution as far as email traffic is concerned, so I'm open to other ideas. This would also be useful in case I get locked out of my Google account.
posted by lhauser to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pop and Imap both seemed to be working fine yesterday. I would imagine in some cases this won't be true, but I was certainly glad to be able to check my mail during the outage (I normally use the web interface).
posted by shownomercy at 9:50 AM on September 2, 2009

IMAP to Thunderbird as a backup. Had no issues with IMAP yesterday. Didn't even know there was an issue until I read it in the papers. I use Google Apps too and had no issue there either.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 AM on September 2, 2009

Do you want to make sure that your email always gets through, or that you can get access to your archives at any time?

The first is very difficult: whoever you choose as your primary email delivery point can go down, and you can't point to two different accounts in the MX. You could handle mail receiving yourself, and pass it on to both GMail and another provider, but then the weak point is your own scrappy service and connection, and GMail's are orders of magnitude better and more reliable than anything you can set up (note that no mail was lost at all yesterday -- just access to the web client).

The second is very easy. Just add a rule forwarding everything that comes into GMail to a secondary account somewhere else, and set up your mail client to add a bcc on outgoing mail to that account as well. Or, easier yet: have another server pull your archives from GMail via POP.
posted by fightorflight at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2009

The first is very difficult: whoever you choose as your primary email delivery point can go down, and you can't point to two different accounts in the MX.

Wow... no. MX records entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to gracefully handle failures. Every MX record has a priority number associated with it, and all results at the same priority are considered equally as good. For instance, suppose I wanted to setup a backup SMTP in case my primary went down. I might do this: MX 10 MX 20

Servers trying to deliver mail are supposed to try first, and if they can't deliver there then try Usually a server like is configured to just queue mail until comes back online, but you can configure it another way.

Of course, this would not have helped at all with the GMail outage yesterday. The problem was 100% with the web interface, and the others (SMTP, IMAP, POP) were perfectly fine.
posted by sbutler at 11:17 AM on September 2, 2009

Wow... no. MX records entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to gracefully handle failures
Wow ... yes, becase this isn't what the OP is asking -- he's asking to deliver to another account as well, and you can't do this with MX.
posted by fightorflight at 11:23 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, fightorflight, I did have the words "I'm open to other ideas" in my post, and sbutler's answer is covered by them (I'm not as well versed in MX capabilities as I ought to be). I'm open to anything that will maximize my email flexibility. Unfortunately Gmail's POP, IMAP and SMTP interfaces are blocked from where I work, though the web interface isn't, so I had no way of knowing during the most recent outage that I could have gotten my mail through a client. I know I can't cover all possible angles; I just want to maximize the possibility of getting my email if there's a problem with Google.
posted by lhauser at 11:43 AM on September 2, 2009

You could work around the web mail outage by using another web service to access Google's IMAP servers - something like a SquirrelMail install, set to point at Google's IMAP server.

That doesn't help if Google's IMAP or SMTP services go offline, of course.
posted by rodgerd at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2009

"What can I do to mitigate a future Gmail outage or account lockout?"

You can't. Don't try.

Gmail has an uptime of 99.x% or something like this. You won't be able to improve this by some "add-on". It is the most reliable email service I know.
You might be able to do better solutions but then we are talking about hundreds of kUS$ of equipment, sysadmin, redundancy in servers and connections etc.

Just to access your email you would need several computers, power backup, two different internet lines (cable and satellite?) to avoid that the problem lies at your home/office. And even last time you would not have had a problem if you used an IMAP email client (I recommend PINE). Only the webinterface had a problem.

What you can do is do regular IMAP backups (free software is available for this). Then you have more control over your email in case gmail decides to charge for it service, closes IMAP access in the future or shuts down completely.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:14 PM on September 2, 2009

My iPhone was able to access my Gmail via imap no problemo.
posted by toastchee at 1:56 PM on September 2, 2009

I have Gmail, email through my domain provider (Bluehost), and ISP email (Verizon). Verizon seems more reliable than Gmail, simply because my Verizon e-mail is only ever down when my internet connection itself is down (and I typically wait it out rather than go check it somewhere else - nothing I do is that urgent). My internet maybe goes down unscheduled once a year (aside from storms = power outages).

Gmail is really the most reliable though - during all of the last several reported outages, I have never once been affected. Yesterday POP worked fine for me, and like shownomercy, I had no idea about the outage until I read about it.

Bluehost, while they stick to their 99% uptime guarantee (which I actually figured out once, it can be down for around 8 hours a month* and remain under that limit), goes down a lot more often... I'd say once or twice a month. It's frustrating to not be able to check those e-mail accounts. Incidentally, several years ago when their hosting package was not unlimited, I kept track of their downtime and ended up being bumped up to more space + bandwidth a few times when they didn't keep their 99% guarantee.

Stick with Gmail. I pay for my Bluehost & Verizon accounts and Gmail's still more reliable.

* 30 days in a month x 24 hours in a day = 720 hours. 99% of 720 = 712.8.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2009

You can configure dual delivery in your domain's Apps account. This is often done during a Google Apps pilot or during transition from an existing environment (Exchange, etc) to Google Apps. You can also configure dual delivery at an email gateway, which would require you change your MX records from Google's servers to your email gateway, which would then have to forward mail to Google and your other environment. You can also configure mail routing on a per-mailbox basis in the Google Apps admin console. Of course, if you configure dual delivery in your Apps account, and everything really goes tits-up, it won't route to your external environment; to prevent that you'd have to have your own email gateway as mentioned above (which would statistically have a higher likelihood of failure, I think).

You can also access messages via Postini, if you have Google Apps Premier Edition and you've configured Postini functionality. You won't be able to respond to those messages, but you could at least see what you're getting.

If there is an outage, you should always go here. This will tell you (a) what exactly is unavailable, and (b) when they expect to have additional information. Yesterday, this told me that I could get to my mail via IMAP. Otherwise, I wouldn't have even tried, to be honest.

All that said, I'm not too sure I would worry about providing an alternate mail infrastructure just for this. Google's outages have, in my experience, been much less intrusive that the outages I've seen with having your own infrastructure.

As for getting locked out of your Google account, I'm not sure exactly what you mean. But I would recommend that you use one account for administering your domain, and another for actual day-to-day use. You should also write down your customer and support PINs, so that you can contact Google by phone if necessary. These are available in the support link in the admin console.

If you have any questions about managing Google Apps, setting up dual delivery, etc, please feel free to MeMail me. I'm not a Google employee, but I work with the people at Google Enterprise responsible for Google Apps administrative training and implementation.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:07 PM on September 2, 2009

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